Facebook parent company Meta Platforms updated its hate speech policies on Tuesday to begin targeting certain posts that use the term “Zionist” as a slur for Jews and Israelis. The move comes as social media platforms have seen an explosion of anti-Zionist rhetoric in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, often with the term being used for attacks outside the Zionist political movement.

In a post to the company’s Transparency Center website, Meta revealed that the issue of speech using the word “Zionist” has been revisited multiple times in recent years, with the latest decision coming from their Policy Forum.

“After hearing input and looking at research from different perspectives, we will now remove speech targeting ‘Zionists’ in several areas where our process showed that the speech tends to be used to refer to Jews and Israelis with dehumanizing comparisons, calls for harm, or denials of existence,” the company wrote.

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When the term was coined in the late 19th Century, Zionism referred to an ethnonationalist political movement within Europe’s Jewish communities to reestablish a homeland in the historic land of Israel. After the State of Israel was established in 1948, Zionism was recontextualized as the ideology that supported the country’s existence and expansion as a Jewish-majority nation. Since then, the term has largely become a stand-in for “Israeli” or “Jewish” in public discourse, though narrow distinctions remain.

According to Meta:

The word “Zionist” has layers of meaning based on its origins and usage today, and may also be highly dependent on context. This term often refers to supporters of a political movement, which is not itself a protected characteristic under our policies, but in some cases may be used as a proxy to refer to Jewish or Israeli people, which are protected characteristics under our Hate Speech policy.

We recognize there is nothing approaching a global consensus on what people mean when they use the term “Zionist.” However, based on our research, engagement, and on-platform investigation into its use as a proxy term for Jewish people and Israelis in relation to certain types of hateful attacks, we will now remove content that targets “Zionists” with dehumanizing comparisons, calls for harm, or denials of existence on the basis that “Zionist” in those instances often appears to be a proxy for Jewish or Israeli people.

Under the new guidelines, posts attacking Zionism as a purely political movement will not be subject to censorship. As an example, Meta states that “we would remove a post that says, ‘People of X religion are stupid,’ but we would allow, ‘Supporters of ‘X political movement’ are stupid.’”

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In addition to the previous approach to the term—which only censored anti-Zionism when it was linked to known antisemitic imagery or made it explicitly clear that “Zionist” referred to Jews—Meta will now also remove content that “uses antisemitic stereotypes or threatens other types of harm through intimidation, or violence directed against Jews or Israelis under the guise of attacking Zionists.” These include:

  • Claims about running the world or controlling the media
  • Dehumanizing comparisons, such as comparisons to pigs, filth, or vermin
  • Calls for physical harm
  • Denials of existence
  • Mocking for having a disease

In instances where “Zionism” is used to suggest criminal behavior (i.e. accusing Zionists of war crimes or genocide), Meta could not reach a conclusion on how to proceed. However, it found that, in these cases, the term usually refers to political entities like militaries and governments rather than protected groups.

Connor Walcott is a staff writer for Valuetainment.com. Follow Connor on X and look for him on VT’s “The Unusual Suspects.”

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